This isn’t a new story – it was actually in Atmospheres, which you should get – but it’s new on Medium, and it’s an experiment to see if anyone reads there. So read it, share it, heart it, however that shit works:
Lyndon LaRouche came up to me on the C train to the World Trade Center, then still standing, and thrust a GameBoy at my chest. He wore a trenchcoat with his hands deep in his pockets, either fondling a pistol or his penis, maybe both. I tried to look away, training my eyes on the ads for Mexican dental school plastered in the subway car. (“$0 down! ¡Habla Español!”)
“Play Tetris, motherfucker,” he said. “Start at level one. And make it slow and sexy. I’ve got three armed guards with sniper rifles trained at your head, so don’t start dropping pieces too fast.” I looked around, but when you’re standing next to a megalomaniac with a gun in one hand and his penis in the other, everybody looks like a shooter. This would be the longest game of Tetris in my life.
I was trying to pitch a sitcom yesterday at Pixar about Norwegian church burnings, and the reception area had this huge bowl of Up-themed promotional anal beads. “Tax write-off,” said Rayat Beherduk, my screenwriting partner. (I don’t know as much about Black Metal, and every time I try to call Ray and ask him a question, he goes on a four-hour long tirade about why Stacy Keibler hasn’t done porn yet.) I did not care about the toys, but I would have killed for anything containing caffeine; I’d been awake for at least 60 hours, and had long since exceeded the monthly purchase limit on pseudoephedrine as legislated by the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, on all four of my fake driver’s licenses. It would be a tough meeting, never mind the fact that Pixar’s new trend of animated snuff films that are in the pipe for the 2014-2015 movie season would probably make our pitch a moot point. (Their tentpole feature for 2014 is a film about a pair of talking hamsters that obsessively masturbate to the Faces of Death movies. Don’t worry, parents – it’s got the usual overloaded Pixar moralist plot in there, too.)
It all started ten years ago — or was it fifteen? — when I was trying to overclock this shitty AMD motherboard, and because Bill Gates managed to get some bullshit local legislation banning “overclocking precursors” so people would have to buy more crap computers, I had to go to this anal bleaching clinic in Renton that sold crystals and thermal paste on the down-low. I’d taken some bad acid that week, and everyone’s faces looked pixelated and blurred, like the genitals in a censored Japanese porn. I often think I have Prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize faces, although it’s more likely that I’m just lazy and/or hate everyone.
“You a cop?” the guy at the cash register asked me. Like I said, I couldn’t see his face, but based on the pixelation, either he suffered from Neurofibromatosis, or he was a Rumer Willis impersonator. “You DEA? Postal inspector?”
“No, I’m cool,” I said.
“Not a fed? IRS?”
“No, seriously man. Fuck the police. I own the first Body Count album and everything.” I produced my MiniDisc player and scrolled through the music playlist to show him I had the original Ice-T album, without the deleted “Cop Killer” track.
“Okay man, you’re cool. Here’s the deal: I’ve got ten pallets of Hunter ceiling fans. Palmero, 52-inch, five blade. Brushed nickel with maple blades, single light fixture. They can move 6707 cubic feet per minute. No serials or warranty cards, but I’ve got to move these fuckers.”
“Christ, from the way you were talking, I thought you had some rocket launchers or something.”
“You should have been here last week. I had ten hot Russian 9K38 Igla Man-portable air-defense systems. You could shoot down a jet going 1,300 MPH at a distance of up to 17,000 feet with one of those. I sold them on this new web site called eBay. Remarkably first-rate payment! Correspondence was exceptional. Superb buyer. A++!”
Early eBay reminded me of the cut-rate flea markets my neighbor Angus used to drag me to every weekend. That part of the country had a large man/alien hybrid Mennonite population, who ran these illegal swap meets in the burned-out remains of public schools, which had largely been shut down and firebombed by the Indiana National Guard for not mentioning Jesus enough during science classes. When I was abducted by aliens a decade later, I asked them about their proclivity to rape and impregnate Mennonite women, and their leader telepathically told me “maH rur be’pu’ tlhej raed’aeusnnta’jhiy ihdhueeerr’unhr ehdhihss”, which I later found out means, “So your girlfriend rolls a Honda, playin’ workout tapes by Fonda / But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda”. (I’ll write more about that alien abduction in a future post.)
Anyway, these flea markets were filled with broken 8-bit computers, illegal silencers for large-bore firearms, books on how to live without a refrigerator and make nutritional soups out of earwax, and bootleg Chinese dildos based on seventies horror/drama films (The Omen, Amityville Horror, Rosemary’s Baby, etc.) I never bought anything, because allowance money was tight, and I was holding out for either a Honda Mini Trail Z70 minibike or a discount PDP-11 minicomputer, especially since the 32-bit VAX-11/780 was displacing the older Q-Bus based systems. I never found either, but once eBay came online, I spent many man-years at my job as a dermatological technical writer cruising through the lists of obsolete computers, beaten motorbikes, and lightly-used competitive enema equipment, instead of writing about topical medication for dermatophytoses.
“Do you think we could ebay these fuckers?” Rayat said, examining the glass container of cartoon-themed adult toys.
“There’s probably a huge amount of overlap between people who buy every damn Pixar thing they see and people who shove large pieces of plastic up their ass,” I said. “But security took all of our bags on the way in, and they’ll probably frisk us on the way out. These fuckers make the TSA look casual.”
“Well, here goes nothing,” Rayat said, unbuckling his pants. “Now let’s get this thing on the hump – we got some flyin’ to do.”
And that, my friends, is why we both ended up with our rectums full of plastic Carl Fredricksen replicas. They’re mostly clean now, though, so please check out my eBay page after I get these things posted.
She was gone when I woke, just a ghost of an image, maybe not even real. I remember telling her “lie flat on the quicksand or Tommy Chong’s going to jail again,” and something else about the variable pricing structure of airline tickets.
How do you recover after your first girlfriend leaves you to have a bondage-themed tryst with Michael Dukakis? What do you do when you find her twenty years later on facebook, beaten into the ground, fucked senseless by life, on her fourth marriage to five guys, this one a republican minister at some get-rich-quick bible ministry run out of the back of a dry cleaner’s in Austin, some kind of next-day extra starch/eternal salvation racket?
I don’t even know what I’d say to her now. I’d spent a billion and a half of someone else’s dollars designing and prototyping a ship that could fly from a low earth orbit to the moon and provide complete nutrition meals to two of every animal in a small zoo. It even recycled the animal shit into functional furniture and decorative lawn ornaments. It took me about a month to get over her in the practical sense, aversion therapy with masturbation during the agitate cycle of a clothes washer, telling every woman on campus that my fiancee died in a variety of different traumatic methods, each one designed by a focus group to elicit the most response (cunt cancer, beatdown by white supremacists, diamond ring overdose, excessive cunnilingus, etc.) But most psychologists would say I never got over her, never would get over her, that it’s like what happens during those 0 to 2 years, stuff you can never unlearn.
Marshall went through this: some chick tried to pin a pregnancy scare on him when he was 15, and he pawned his entire uranium collection to drive to whatever shithole state this welfare baby ran to, to throw himself at the mercy of this piece of teenaged pussy who thought a demon spawn would solve all of her problems. He called me from a county jail in West Cockistan, begging for a wire transfer and bus ticket, or maybe for a future version of myself to become the leader of the rebellion and send back in time a cyborg to bust him out of the pen. He spent 2 to 24 months in a lockdown psych ward, the take-away-your-shoelaces kind of place that drugged you into nothingness and then had you talk about what remained of your now-annihilated feelings to a room full of habitual glue-sniffers and dry drunks locked up for sodomizing their family’s farm animals.
“I wrote an English essay from the point-of-view of the GI Joe villain Destro, if he had to watch his dog die a slow death from aspartame poisoning. It’s called ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Canine Nutrasweet Poisoning’.”
“How long is it?”
“27 pages, single spaced.”
“How much did you fuck with the margins to get 27 pages?”
“There are no margins. It was really good speed. The words fucking flew, like you could not believe. I wrote an extended flashback sequence where Destro talked about his first masturbatory experience, anally stimulating himself with one of those pool cue bridge things. No lube. He’s a bad guy, right?”
I didn’t want to proof Jimmy’s story. It didn’t help that he offered to do one of those Adobe shared review things, because every time I type ten words on my computer, Acrobat says it has another update.
It didn’t help that Jimmy’s mom was one of these morbidly obese evangelical types, the kind hell-bent on monitoring every atom of their child’s interaction with the universe and dismissing everything not mentioned in the King James as an agent of satan. She seriously would not let him eat the hexagonal “Mexican” pizza served in the school cafeteria, because some asshat on channel 46 hour of power said they were used in witchcraft ceremonies. She would only let us play some bullshit Davey and Goliath board game their church printed illegally and sold at a flea market fundraiser.
“Someday, we’re going to question all of this, when we’re trying to find out place in life,” he said, using one of the Davey/Goliath cards to rake up a pile of absurdly cut cocaine into lines we could snort with an empty pixie stix tube in lieu of a rolled-up Benjamin.
“What do you mean? Computers are going to keep track of all of that shit by then,” I said. It was true; Compute’s Gazette ran monthly stories on how computers would rule the world by 1997, how all paper would be obsolete by at least 1989, if not sooner. I did not doubt their predictions. And why not? These were the same people who wrote a program for the Commodore 64 that converted 6510 machine language opcodes into James Joyce constructs of tone poems, perfectly synthesized artifacts that could be beamed across the sky at 300 bits per second and reconstructed in loser basements a continent away.
President Crispin Glover just announced over the airwaves that all illegal cyborgs would be seized by the government and instructed to participate in a mass orgy of simulated sex acts orchestrated to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The pundits set aside his erratic behavior, Orkly Kid drag wig, and overt consumption of baby laxative mixed with Goya fruit soda flavors, and focused on how this robot seizure was an indirect effort to synthesize riots similar to those when the symphony first premiered in 1913.
“I’d rather eat the snatch of a dead bear for free,” said Kissinger, screaming at members of the UN Security Council to reconsider their decision to put a McDonald’s branch on the surface of the planet Venus. 47 countries voted against the restaurant’s insistence to allow human-animal sexual exchange of excrement, especially since this would be the only source of revenue for the first 14 Earth-years of the restaurant’s lease. “I cannot watch this unchecked aggression consume our fatwa spring roll menstruation.” It occurred to the translators that Kissinger was in the midst of a stroke and replacing words nonsensically. The Japanese government insisted this was some kind of cipher, and sent 14 experts high-resolution digital recordings of his speech on solid-state hard drives for later dissemination.
[Ed. note: This originally ran on drunkenscrawl.com in 2001.]
I never planned on being a writer. I didn’t go through the usual sequence of events: grade-school poetry books, systematic barbiturate abuse, ritual castration, and endless memorization of various tomes of literature, some good and some bad. My friend Nick
preached the ways of his creative writing program – the incredible female:male ratio, his classwork on nun sodomy and pornographic science fiction, and the time he nailed a tenured professor after a lengthy yet erotic argument over the existence of neo-fascism and scatological fantasies in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But I wanted to stick with what I knew: high-energy physics. Once I lifted some plutonium and built my first low-yield nuclear device, the chicks would follow.
Somewhere during a depressing summer where I was demoralized by a series of artificial vagina failures that left me with first-degree upper thigh lacerations and a distrust of all things vinyl, I enrolled in my first English class. Actually, I took a required composition class during my first semester of college, and forgot about it thereafter (the teacher, a sexy and psychotic fiction writer heavily influenced by Sylvia Plath and Penthouse Forum letters from the late ’70s, stalked me for about two years after I turned in a 37-page story about a virus based on the Revised Standard Version of the bible that increased erectile function in males until the entire eco-political system of the world was thrown out of balance. She urged me in repeated visits, letters, and telegrams to sodomize her
and her undergraduate roommate from Monticello, North Carolina, while posing as a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy. I waved her off, after having heard stories about the Domino’s-Mafia connection and thinking I’d end up part of some crazed “kill my wife” conspiracy plan that wouldn’t really help my English grade at all. It’s odd that I didn’t
remember this episode until just now – maybe I should’ve taken her up on the offer, but I got an A in the class regardless.) The story also entertained a theory that there were metaphorical connections between various categories of the DSM-3R and NHRA bracket drag racing categories. I never managed to complete this idea, but I did write several papers on the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and mathematician Nikolai Ivanovitch Lobachevsky (if you play the aforementioned CD at the same time you throw out Euclid’s fifth axiom and attempt to construct a non-Euclidian geometry in which more than one parallel line will pass through point P, a bunch of the words from the CD and various steps of the construction line up with uncanny accuracy. I don’t remember all of the lyrics, but someone out there’s gotta have a web page about it.) I never got laid during the course, which had a female:male ratio of 39:1, and it made me go even deeper into a world of narcolepsy, relativistic quantum field theory research, and a diet consisting largely of Combos pretzel snacks, microwave frozen baked potatoes with large amounts of imitation bacon bits, and supermarket-brand grape soda, which I purchased by the palletainer.
Months later, after the sweeping change of various post-Soviet era nuclear treaties, plus my dismissal from the high-energy physics PhD program for holding a 0.37 GPA, I entered an academic confusion further complicated by my breakup with a 19-year-old aspiring actress and practicing endodontist, who meant the world to me, even if we only
dated on and off for six months and I managed to sleep with her roommate and 17 out of 25 of her floormates. It still hurt, I had no direction in my life, and I had a root canal sealed with temporary filling and nobody to fit it with a porcelain crown. (Well, nobody I
loved anyway. I could’ve paid a dentist, but that would’ve felt like prostitution to me.)
One day, while waiting in an LAX book store (at the time, I had been commuting from Manhattan Beach to West Memphis every third day, and driving back to school every 21 days to catch up on academic work and various babe-trawling schemes,) and who do I see but Henry Rollins, ex-frontman from Black Flag and writer extroardinaire. He was wearing an Australian leather dingo hat, a Paula Abdul tour shirt, and skin-tight green spandex leggings as some sort of disguise from his fans, enemies and hangers-on. I went up to him and told him a full history of my interest in his work: the SST compilation cassettes I played constantly during high school, the time I followed the Rollins Band on the Lollapalooza tour, my Masters of Science in Human Performance Technology thesis on his book Pissing in the Gene Pool. He seemed unimpressed, until I told him that my father had accidentally dropped two unfused Mk 84 bombs on his father’s foot during the Vietnam War, which made him warm up like a long lost pal.
We headed to the snack bar, and I explained to Rollins my entire predicament – the graduate program dismissal, the ex-girlfriend’s female circumcision right after the split, the habitual mouthwash abuse and lack of any focus. He set down his chili dog, and after a pondering moment of silence, he replied with words of wisdom I’d never forget: “Fuck women. Fuck school. Fuck money. Go write some books, get a good agent, lift weights, get tattoos, and never do a film with Keanu Reeves.” He then comped me his latest spoken word CD, and vanished in a puff of smoke.
Since then, I’ve followed his lead with frequent and nonsensical diary entries, sometimes writing several hundred pages while waiting for a plane or during a shift at work. Soon, the journals turned into short stories, chapbooks, zines, books, an encyclopedia on vacuum cleaner technology for Funk & Wagnall, and a gold disk to be launched on the DSM-1 space probe by NASA as a testimony to humanity, the arts, and extreme, Satanic, unholy black metal (the record portion of the disc will contain unreleased tracks by Venom, Varathron, and Cradle of Filth, among others.)
And that is how I became a writer.
[Ed. note: This originally ran on drunkenscrawl.com in 2001.]
I just got back from watching Godzilla is One Bad Motherfucker, starring Samuel L. Jackson. I went with a bunch of people from my Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and we all got so fucked up – we drank before, during, and after the movie. One of the guys, Vince N., who used to be in some pussy arena rock band back in the 80’s, was shooting Jack Daniel’s straight into his heart with some kind of veterinary-grade needle as big as a fucking pencil. I blacked out and woke up in the women’s restroom of a Kerasotes theatre with one of those nine dollar boxes of Jots shoved up my ass. And I don’t even remember buying the Jots, or I would’ve given somebody shit about them being nine fucking dollars.
Back at the homestead, I undo the twelve locks on my front door and go to take a shit, first putting down my laptop, MiniDisc, combination MP3 player and vibrator, Palm Pilot, cell phone, GPS, scientific calculator, dosimeter, altimeter, belt-clip mounted electroencephalograph with 3-D spatial visualization goggles, portable defibrillator, and Game Boy with add-on camera, printer, and blow-job device. Some people say I have a problem with electronics, but my only problem is getting all of these fucking batteries recharged, because my piece of shit apartment has one electrical outlet, and I have a Mayan pyramid of power splitters and outlet trees and surge protectors coming out of the bastard.
Anyway, drop my shit all over the floor, go to the answering machine: twelve messages. The first eleven are wrong numbers for some guy that is probably dead also named Jon (or John, more likely) who, based on the fucked up messages, is either a priest or maybe he’s involved with some kind of ponzi scheme with old people. It’s a fine line, really. So the last one is a message from my friend Nick, back in Indiana, and according to the amount of time it takes my near-worthless recorder to wind the wheels of the tiny tape, it’s gotta be a long one.
“Psycho, did you go see it? Did you go fucking see it? Jesus fucking Herschel Christ on a cross it was so fucking awesome! I saw it four times in a row! Go fucking kill someone and see it! I don’t wanna ruin it for you, but Godzilla totally fucking destroys Japan! And the special effects are totally fucked out – he looks even more fake than in Godzilla 2000! Nothing else to report. I am doing a CD layout job for this jerkoff in a goth band and I told him to send me a slide so I could scan it, and he sent me a ViewMaster reel. I don’t even know if he wants the left or the right eye for the scan, let alone how the fuck I’m going to bring a circular piece of fucking cardboard with Blue’s Clues pictures to the photo shop to get it scanned, since those bastards barely know what to do with a roll of 35mm film. OK, I need to go, Friends is on. Hail Satan.”
Shit. Shower. Several dozen Immodium AD tablets followed by a bottle of seltzer water mixed 50-50 with Johnson’s lemon-scent floor wax, to coat the intestines from the barbaric effects of straight grain alcohol and concession-stand hotdogs. I needed sleep. I needed a day or two of rest followed by a grilled cheese sandwich and some Manhattan clam chowder. I fell into the bed, a Beretta 93-R 9mm pistol under my pillow, a copy of the Chevy ’68-’73 big-block engine rebuild manual at my side, the only thing I can read these days. There is no literature anymore. The last good piece of writing produced was the terrorist manual We Shall Fight in the Streets, and you can’t even find that at your local Barnes and Noble. Only VCR repair manuals, classified ads, and legal disclaimers are produced now, and The Idiot’s Guide to Living in a Society Where Everyone is So Braindead, They Actually Elected a Cokehead President (Second Edition). The word has been dead for twenty years, and everyone’s too busy watching Dawson’s Creek to notice.
I smelled a Carl’s Junior hamburger. I remembered how to cut and paste street signs into my Amiga. The temperature drifted, the walls filled with the static cry of a TV that was supposed to record Herpes Island but the fucking narcs at Time/Warner cut my illegal cable feed again. I saw Darth Vader at a monster truck show in 1992, carving Walt Whitman poetry into a skinhead’s back with a butane-powered soldering iron. The smell of burning flesh filled my nose. Everything faded away.
I want to build a really fast car with an engine that sticks out of the hood and no exhaust. That’s the first thing I remember, along with dating a woman that gradually shrinks to the size of an egg, and then I boil her and crack her head open with a spoon, but I somehow think that imagery is from the time I read Aesop’s fables after two tabs of acid, because she was dressed something like Humpty Dumpty. I spent an hour of the dream reading a massive Web index of homepages belonging to every person I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t go through the list from A to Z – I’m guided by a bizarre algorithm of data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s clock in Boulder, Colorado and my Magic 8-Ball. My network connection from here to the list is not that stellar, so I open a second browser window, reading CNN news and going through pharmacological sites (they are usually the most updated thing on the web.) I also read a lot of movie information at IMDB, searching for that elusive furthest link from Kevin Bacon. I find out that the girl I went to the prom with was actually an android built by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I can’t remember past that.
I went to a college physics class and met a girl in clown makeup whose boyfriend had “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” tattooed on his forehead. I told her about my brother that died in a clown car accident, then wiped off the red and black color makeup so she only looked like a mime before I fucked her in the ass. It was one of those “I missed half of the classes and had to get an A on the midterm or I was fucked” dreams. A lot of people talk about this dream and think it’s funny, but I LIVED IT for six years, and usually when I wake up, my heart beats at like 310 for an hour until I walk around the house and convince myself that I’m not in college anymore. And by the time I realize I’m not, I’m even more depressed.
“Somebody set up us the bomb!” My X10-based security system electrocuted another idiot trying to cut through the bars on my windows. 3:22 AM. The girl upstairs was screaming at her guido boyfriend because he allegedly ruined her life or something. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Most of the women in this neighborhood only date men with kilos of fake gold chains and an IROC Z-28 with tinted windows, and only I see humor in this. Outside, twelve cars in front of my window have their horns wired permanently to the on position, like it will make a difference.
Fuck. I have at least two hours until my array of hidden alarm clocks will try to wake me. I want to write my dreams into a notebook and sell them as a movie. Instead, I dug up a M47 Dragon II shoulder-fired, man-portable anti-tank missile system from under the bed, opened the window, and took aim at a ConEd truck parked backwards and across two lanes of the road. Someday they’ll build a small missile that will home in on the BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP of the reverse gear on those fucking trucks. The secondary explosions of gas tanks still feel like a dream, even with the empty launcher in my hand. I saw fields of soybeans melt with napalm, the thick black smoke of a crashed Huey UH-1 gunship, the out of control rotor blade slicing Vietnamese schoolchildren in half, a David Lynch porno with Cronenberg fucking a giant fake bug. I think of genetic testing and pure artesian water frozen into tiny cubes, and fall back asleep.
[There are reasons why this is timely, which I will go into later. I always wished I had finished this, but I didn’t. But read what there is, and let me know what you think. This was, btw, written in 1996.]
I sat in my bed, listening to an old Shadowfax CD, watching the helicopters land on top of the hospital as the giant window of grey-blue sky slowly dissolved into black. I thought about the giant crane across the street, the spindly arm of faded steel that stood over the hospital construction site. It might make a decent photo, just this massive pillar of steel cross-beams, etched by a year of Seattle weather, reaching for the sky like God’s hand on the ceiling of the sistine chapel.
Before I got my camera, I played the future events in my head: I’d take a handful of photos, using a zoom, posing them in some artistic fashion. Then a few months would pass, I’d develop the film, and I’d wonder why the fuck I took 12 photos of the Seattle skyline with a tiny speck of a crane on the distant horizon.
I’ve been smart enough to stay away from taking pictures of sunsets, full moons, mountain ranges, and other giant spectacles of nature. You either need to see Mount Ranier for yourself, or sell your car to buy some large-format photo gear and high-end lenses to capture the moment.
Fares are low. Just fly to the mountains and check them out the real way. It’s worth the hundred bucks.
I’ve always been religious about writing three hours a night. I started this ritualistic scrawling when all of my friends moved away and I couldn’t deal with all of the shithead 19 year olds ruling the campus anymore. I hid in my room, or in the basement of the building where I worked, and etched journal pages in tiny black-ink print, a running dialog for what didn’t happen with other people anymore. I wrote because I didn’t have a girlfriend and didn’t want to deal with finding one. I wrote because I didn’t like TV and I didn’t like basketball games and I didn’t like frat parties and I didn’t have any other options in the disintegrating college town.
When I moved to Seattle, the nightly writing served a dual purpose. The advertized intent was to say I was a serious writer. I wrote books, novels, epics in my spare time. The day job – just a cover. Just a way to pay rent while I turned out the next great American masterpiece. Van Gogh’s brother gave him free pants, I worked at Spry. In a sense, the serious writing bit was true, or at least I wanted it to be.
On the other hand, the writing was still a way of eating my time when I had no other social tools in place. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know where things were, I didn’t know what was happening in this new and strange city. And I feared leaving the house for a few months, because every time I tried to find new stores or new clubs or new hangouts, I’d spend $80 in 14 minutes, or get a parking ticket because I didn’t know how to decipher the Seattle parking system. And I’d get lost, and spend half of the day learning the difference between 4th Ave and 4th Ave S. To avoid this, I’d just sit at home and write. And I turned out two full manuscripts and a lot of little stuff because of this.
But I haven’t been writing lately. When I get home from work, I sleep for 2 or 3 hours, then eat a TV dinner while reading my email. Then I watch the blue sky slowly fade to black outside the giant window my by bed. Sometimes I read, sometimes I don’t. I haven’t been latching onto big, complex books lately, so I read some Bukowski, or sometimes just zines or catalogs. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I enjoy the sound of nothing.
When I need to get out of the house, I take long drives with no destination. I just got back from one – I rolled down the windows, and wandered around lake Union, then up to the U-district and back again. Wind blows into the car, the darkness surrounding me, providing a sense of removal, a desolation almost required by my mood. The night contrasts the high-tech view of the city, the lights and steel and climbing buildings and concrete growing into the 21st century.
The last time I drove like this was two years ago. I got a Mustang when my friend Bill moved away. And that summer, everyone moved away. After June, I had an apartment to myself, and the silence engulfed me, almost too much. After a day of classes, writing, work, and everything else, I’d be sitting on my couch at 8 o’clock, staring at the wall, and go for a long drive to nowhere. It was the first time I had a car, and I enjoyed cruising the same streets over and over, breathing the summer air, wishing there was something more exciting than the small, empty college campus. Now, I do the same thing, but I’ve got enough terrain to get lost in, I can pick a direction and find things I’ve never seen before. And there’s more to see. But, it’s still a lonely, self-torturous exercise.
Tonight, I listened to a tape an ex-girlfriend made me three years ago, sappy and sentimental music she wanted me to hear when she was in Tampa and I was in Indiana. The music reminds me of her, her letters in perfect cursive on blue stationary, her precise phone calls every Saturday at 11am, her visits to my house when she was on campus, waking me up after her first three classes. It all depresses me – which is something I crave sometimes.
I savor my depression, or at least the mediocre, mid-line depression that fills in the empty spaces between exciting events and major crashes. I don’t like the depression following a breakup, a death, a loss, or an event that causes canyon-like holes of despair in my mental terrain. But when nothing’s happening, and life’s playing a test pattern on my soul, I soak in my own negative feelings about the past, and baste them with reminders and nostalgia. When I know I’m fucked up, I read old letters, e-mails, journals, and stories. I look at photos of people I’ll never see again and listen to old songs and smell old cologne I never wear because of the olfactory memories they carry. It doesn’t always bring the heavy, spine-scouring depression though. It’s just a heavy nostalgia, something more than yearbook photos but not dehabilitating. Just reminiscent.
So what’s the deal with the depression, the rut, the interruption this month? Two things have me off-kilter lately. The first has to do with my trip. And my trip starts with some background. Get yourself a drink first, this probably gets boring fast.
I’ve never been close to either of my parents. My preschool years were spent either alone or with my sister, on a house in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. I learned to read before I could remember, and constructed an airtight routine of endless books, crayon drawings, lego frontiers, and Star Wars figures. When we moved to Indiana, I never escaped these worlds, and instead of learning about girls and football in the public schools, I went to gifted school and learned about Apple computers, Steinbeck, Bradbury, Asimov, and Tolstoy. So when I was thirteen and my parents divorced, their custody antics were just interruptions in my BASIC programming and Dungeons and Dragons games. I had a complete, albeit isolated, world without much interaction from them.
There always were strings preventing a clean break though, items of conditionality that haunted my life over the last decade. Rent, tuition, books, cars, insurance, clothes, credit cards, and food all became chains, issues that kept either parent hacking at my freewill over the years. I tried to work jobs and take loans as much as possible, but some form of leash always kept me under their control.
When I moved to Seattle, however, most or all of the money issues dissolved. I started paying my own bills, and didn’t ask for any help. Times were tight after moving here, but one day I remember just realizing I was financially independant. After years of struggle and worry that I’d never be able to sever ties, I realized I had in fact cut all monentary relations from my elders.
Why am I babbling about this? Because without conditionality, and without that great emotional bond of closeness that some assholes share with their parents, I have no real reason to ever see mine again.
However, my parents “miss” me, or have been conditioned to have me around for holidays, as some sort of default bonding procedure. Last Christmas, I took a week of unpaid leave from my job and flew from Seattle to Elkhart (via Cincy) to see my folks. After suffering through being broke the whole time, messing up my bill schedule with the missing pay, flying in a storm in a tiny prop plane that was two steps less airworthy than the plane Buddy Holly died in, and dealing with the rush of holiday frenzy at the airports, I barely saw my parents. I didn’t see my dad at all, he was smart enough to evacuate to Florida for the winter. My mom was with her new boyfriend the whole time, so I saw her maybe twice the whole week. Carless and broke, I basically spent thousands of dollars to spend a week watching _Saved By the Bell_ reruns in the freezing, shitty climate of Northern Indiana. (_Saved By the Bell_ isn’t too bad once you’ve seen _Showgirls_, however.) After that incident, I pledged to never come home again, unless Ed McMahon accidentally delivered my check there and required me to show up and cash it.
Then my mom announced that she was getting married to this guy, and wanted me to visit for the wedding. She offered to pay for everything, so I agreed to come out for a weekend, nothing more. From this moment, my mind filled with fear.
Let me fill you in on the mom situation. Her dad died last July, which meant that she would inherit a bunch of money once his estate cleared probate court. With this financial security on the back burner, she divorced her second husband in October. In November, she started dating this new guy. Is he a doctor? A lawyer? An executive?
He’s a truck driver. A redneck, closed-minded, racist, homophobic, belt-buckle wearing, broken car-collecting, truck driver. My mom thinks he’s great. She wonders why I don’t call him my stepdad. Actually, she wonders why I don’t call her, period.
About the inheritance, the money isn’t an incredible amount; you couldn’t retire on it or even live like a hog for a long time with it. But you could pay off your house and your other bills and make some investments so you wouldn’t have to worry about when things break or when you want a vacation. If you gave me this dollar amount when I was 18, I would’ve thought about retiring and buying big houses and Rolls convertibles. Now, I’d divide it by my annual income and realize that it should be wisely invested after paying the bills. My mom thinks it’s a lot of cash. I’m expecting her to be broke in 10 years, asking me for her next house payment or something.
I didn’t approve of the marriage or her plans, but 5,000 frequent flier miles and a chance to see my friend Ray didn’t sound like too bad of a plan. I told her she had to get me a car, gave her my tux size, and a few weeks before the wedding, some tickets appeared in my mailbox. It was a done deal, I’d fly out on Thursday, July 11, and leave the next Sunday.
Fast forward to the day I leave. I haven’t talked to my mom in a week or confirmed any of the plans. All I know is that I have tickets to get to O’Hare airport in Chicago, and a reservation at Budget to get a car and drive into Elkhart (about 140 miles). I pack a single suitcase with my crap and her gift, a box of stuff from the Made in Washington store, and leave my car at SeaTac for the journey.
I’ve made a few changes to my itinerary that she doesn’t know about. First, I’ll be staying with my friend Ray instead of her. She’s got other guests from out of town staying at the house, I don’t have a bed there anymore and I don’t want to battle and stand in line for hours every time I want to use the bathroom. Plus there’s a different kind of insanity flowing at Ray’s place, that of death metal and godzilla films and zombies and all-night rap sessions about chicks and death and gore, not the insanity of wedding preparations and my mother verbally throttling us kids for not having the right socks to match our clothes or something. I also planned on making a few unplanned visits while I had the unlimited-mileage car. More on those in a bit.
Airports are pretty surreal at 2pm on a weekday. The people wandering the concourses are one of three types. The first is the RoboExecutive, dressed to kill, lugging one of everything from the Sharper Image, closing that important deal on the cell phone in the airport Burger King Express, elbowing past everyone else because, of course, they are IMPORTANT. Second type of person is the retired senior citizen, usually travelling in groups to places like Pasadena or Palm Springs. They’re incompatable with the power businessperson because they take forever to get on and off the plane, and spend most of their time loading up on high octane coffee and bran muffins right before takeoff so they can bitch and moan about being sick when you have to sit next to them. The third type of midday voyager is the 20 year old white trash looking woman with 4 unruly kids. I don’t know if they travel back to their parents to show off the kids or if they are really child smugglers in disguise. All I know is the kids usually inflict extreme terror and make the skies much less than friendly.
Today’s journey wasn’t too bad though. I ditched the Escort in short term parking, got asked a billion questions about my suitcase because of the RITUAL SACRIFICE stickers all over the side (hey, it’s simple to spot in the luggage conveyor), and even found a complete copy of USA Decay in the men’s crapper. I caught a bit of sleep on the plane, and got a great view of Montana and Idaho on the way out. Descending into Chicago, I saw the daylight and sunset behind me as we flew into darkness at about 9pm. It’s pretty weird to be in nightfall and still be able to look at the sun, and made it a bit depressing to lose 2 hours. But we landed fast, and I was once again in Illinois.
Chicago’s a great city. My entire family on my Mom’s side is there, and we made trips there every holiday to my grandparents’ place where there was always a giant gathering of dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives. Later in life, Chicago became the place to go for big concerts, cool shopping, and general rebellion, since it was only 100 miles away. It’s sad to think that my entire Chicago experience has been limited to the O’Hare airport. I usually got to the city about once a year for a big party or show when I was in school. Since I moved to Seattle, I was in Chicago 5 or 6 times, all of them layovers in the airport. It’s frustrating to be that close to all of the cool things you knew in a previous life, but unable to do anything because you’ve got to run 900 yards in 14 minutes to catch a plane.
O’Hare was busy, and I instantly got in my shitty yes sir/no sir mode to avoid getting mugged or ripped off. When I was at the rental car place, the guy at the counter said “Chill out, this is Chicago, not Beirut”. Same difference to me, buddy.
I got set up with a Mazda 626, and took the shuttle to the rental car field to pick up my ride. I wanted a foreign car because I knew that my mom’s fiancee was one of those “proud to buy American” types, and I wanted to get some Japanese wheels and spend the weekend talking about how much nicer they were than my Ford. Oh, and I didn’t want a Ford – I wasn’t about to rent an Escort. That’s like cheating on your middle-aged wife with another middle-aged housewife.
I put in a Jawbreaker tape, tore out of the lot into the night, and struggled with every aspect of the car. I couldn’t find the lights. Then I couldn’t adjust the seat, the lever was all backward. Then I couldn’t figure out the tilt wheel. The whole car was awkward and I had a lot of trouble doing all of this while going 70 on I190.
Then I wanted to rewind my tape. I hit the button, and nothing happened. I hit fast forward – nothing. I hit eject. No dice. I hit the radio and it shut off. After pulling into a gas station and closely inspecting the radio, I concluded it was fucked, and turned around.
The lady at the car place was nice enough to quickly swap me into another car – a Toyota Corolla. Air in the Paragraph Line readers who caught issue 3 might remember that I rented a Corolla when in San Jose, and had a pretty good experience. This car was even better. It was a 1996 with only 4000 miles, all options, and it still smelled like a brand spanking new vehicle. I swapped my stuff into the other car, and took off down the Skyway.
Chicago seemed much tamer and smaller than I had remembered. The daily driving in Seattle and other big cities made the whole thing more mundane. But it felt good to cruise the Loop in the new car, pushing on the express lanes while jamming to my Jawbreaker tape. I jacked the car up to what felt like 70 or 80, and was shocked when I looked down at the speedometer and saw it bouncing off the 110 mark on the far right. Even at this opened-out speed, there was no wind noise, no shudder – it felt like my new Escort at 30mph. My next stop of Griffith, Indiana, would be approaching pretty fast with this kind of speed, I thought, and the excitement built about seeing Jia again.
I met Jia in the seventh grade, in first hour algebra. Back then, we almost looked identical – thick glasses, reddish hair in a greasy bowl cut, and always in front of an Apple II or a Dungeons and Dragons game. We were friends all through school, but really grew tight in our last few years of high school. We spent a lot of time together, wandering the area and getting into some heavy discussions at times. I was Radar to his Hawkeye sometimes – he dated, partied, and seemed to integrate a bit better than me. But we still had similarities, our thoughts were uncannily similar most of the time.
He went to Purdue and I went to Indiana, and we’d manage to talk or see each other every 6 months or year. I was friends with his mom, who worked at the Walden Books by my mom’s house and was pretty cool (she gave me a copy of Dalton Trumbo’s _Johnny Got His Gun_, which is now one of my favorite books of all time). But about three years ago, I came home and found that his parents moved out of town, and we weren’t synched up with college addresses or phones. Then he graduated, I graduated, I moved, he probably moved… he was an MIA.
Thanks to switchboard.com, I found his number a few months ago. I called, and we talked for the first time in three years. I agreed to stop in and see him, and now I was cruising into Griffith, with a set of instructions on a post-it note, looking for his apartment.
Griffith is a large strip mall between Gary and Chicago, one of many Indiana cities that consists of only gas stations, Burger Kings, and urban sprawl. The apartment wasn’t hard to find, a typical modular place with 6 apartments per building, and a few dozen cloned buildings named after letters of the alphabet.
There weren’t any surprises with Jia – no little kids running around, no facial tattoos or green mohawk, he looked the same as usual. We sat and talked, watched MTV and shot the shit. It was strange, even after the years apart, how similar our lives were. He was a chemical engineer, and worked for a big steel company. It wasn’t something exciting, or any life-long love, but it paid the bills and the money was comfortable. I feel the same way about the technical writing stuff. I’d rather be writing fiction all day, fucking chicks in Paris, wandering streets in China, sleeping all day in Seattle – I didn’t wake up when I was 10 and say “Mommy! Someday I want to index computer manuals and take minutes at boring meetings!” I like my job, and it’s a good way to earn money, but it’s not leisure work or something I’d do as a hobby for no money. And once you make the money, you buy more shit, and get more debt, and even when you have three times as much a month, you’re still scraping by.
Jia didn’t get married either, and I think we both share the same frustrations about that whole subject. And he’s writing too, although he’s more of a poet. But we talked about the art, the idea of publishing books and knowing that someone might pick up your book and read it and totally identify with it, and how that creationism makes it all worthwhile.
Jia had to work the next day, and I had to meet up with Ray – it was already 1 in the morning after we talked for awhile. I wanted to take out my contacts, which were bothering the fuck out of me because I got a tiny droplet of salad dressing in them earlier. I dug through my backpack for my glasses and… couldn’t find them. I checked my suitcase and… no dice. No luck in the car either.
This sent me in extreme, leak-in-spacesuit-in-deep-space panic. I’m pretty fucking blind, and my contacts only last for about 12 hours at best before they dry and stop working. They were in hour 15 now, and with no glasses, there was no way I could make it into the weekend. And I couldn’t just get a set of replacement glasses at walmart or something – it took the glasses-in-an-hour place A WEEK to make my current pair.
After some quick calls (okay, they weren’t quick – I ended up in a phone tree for a while), I got to the people at the car place at O’Hare. I figured that when I got the 626, I dumped out my shit on the front seat and left the glasses there. A clerk went and checked, and they found the case, and I could pick them up any time at the 24 hour car return desk.
I called Ray and told him that I’d be a few hours late, and then soaked my lenses with solution to buy some more time from them. I said goodbye to Jia, and gave him a draft of my book and the back catalog of the zine. Next stop – O’Hare.
On the way out of Griffith, I realized that there was a Motel 6 right next to the highway that had historical significance to me. In my freshman year of college, I started dating a woman and we were going to Chicago for the weekend. We drove up, and then her car broke, so we ended up limping the thing to Griffith and spending a night in that Motel 6. I won’t go into why that motel has a certain significance to me, but I’m sure you can figure it out.
In my blur of a trip north, I somehow ended up on 294, which is a toll road wrapping around the south side of Chicago. That’s a bum deal for a few reasons – it costs about $1.60 to get to O’Hare and I only had about $35 on me for the whole weekend, it’s a closed course which means cops could easily prey on people or idiots could jam the whole thing up, and I wouldn’t see the city. But I highballed the stretch of road, keeping it above 90 for most of the venture. When the semis are going 80, you know it’s safe.
The same beautiful, young latino woman who helped me with the 626 to Corolla swap had my glasses. Whoever you were, thank you very much! An incredible relief swept my entire body when I popped the lenses and went back to glasses, like a splinter being removed. I said thanks 10 more times, and hit out for I-190.
The second trip through Chicago went by even faster. I locked into the express lanes with nobody around, and probably had the car at 120 for the entire stretch. With the first Beastie Boys album in the player, I jammed down the skyway at breakneck speed. It felt like being on a Grand Prix track, with concrete walls on either side of me and no openings. But this Grand Prix ran through Chicago, and the familiar skyline and lake and exits blurred past.
I dumped out to US20 after I crossed the Indiana state line. It was a pretty scary road, four lanes, undivided, with plenty of turnoffs and other turmoil. But it was free, and would be empty. I dug in, and cranked the car as much as possible, cautiously watching for other motorists or police. Ray and I used to take this road home from shows in Chicago, and I knew most of the landmarks and small towns. Somewhere near Michigan City, I had to stop for a train. Welcome to Indiana.
The voyage continued with no incident. I crossed the South Bend line and passed the Michiana Airport. 160 miles: 86 minutes. That included the train and a stop in bumblefuck, IN for a Coke. A new record for team Toyota.
I drove straight through downtown South Bend, bringing on a new range of flashbacks of my past. South Bend was the cool place to go in my junior and senior year, the city 20 miles from Elkhart that wasn’t spectacular, but wasn’t Elkhart. Driving downtown and past the Century Center reminded me of Friday nights when Jia and I went to the 24 hour porno shops on Michigan, when Tom and I hit the malls and shops and cruised in my old Camaro, hoping to find women that we never met, or driving with Ray or Larry to obscure friends’ houses or clubs or dives, driving a half an hour to meet someone who supposedly saw Metallica on the Ride the Lightning tour. The roads looked the same, felt the same as they did in 1989.
And the next part looked pretty damn similar to 1991, the year I was at IU South Bend, commuting to Elkhart via US33 every day. I curved eastward on this road, a route heavily burned into my mind from the year of commuting. Every night, after working my late computer lab shift at the school, I’d climb into my Turismo and zip down this amber-lit path through Mishawaka, driving the desolate streets of post-midnight michiana. Now, at 3:30 am, it looked the same, like I was going back to my mom’s house to sleep until the next day of skipping classes and playing Smash TV or Tetris with Ray all day, and hacking Modula-2 and helping idiots with WordPerfect 5.1 all night.
Within a few minutes, I descended into Elkhart, and shuttled over to Ray’s place. We pulled my luggage into the house, and I looked around at the changes since last Christmas. Ray lives in a house that his Grandmother used to live in. The basement is his mom’s business by day, and his band’s practice room by night. The upstairs is now his. When I went into the living room, unanswered mail lay strewn over every square inch of the room, in no particular order. Ray’s never been great about his mail, but there must’ve been a recent explosion or hostile takeover or something. A tip if you ever write Metal Curse magazine – don’t expect a reply in under 4 years. He’ll write back, but he’s currently answering mail from 1992.
Ray’s room was also taken over by CDs. Between the magazine, trading with other bands, working at a record store, and just spending a lot of money on CDs, Ray has several thousand CDs now, and several times more cassettes and demos. You may think I’m exaggerating or joking, but he seriously has several THOUSAND CDs. Like an entire wall, floor to ceiling. Like the entire stock of a small record store.
Ray and I didn’t have much catching up to do – we talk on the phone several times a week, and had just talked for a few hours the night before. But I told him the whole story about the contacts and the car and everything else while he tried to clear the living room floor of mail so I could sleep. After an hour of trip stories and making fun of the wedding, we hauled a spare mattress out of his basement, and I set up camp in the middle of a valley of mail. On all sides, Par Avoin envelopes from Scandanavian bands with names like _Inverted Bitch Fister_ engulfed me. We talked more and laid out weekend plans, until light started streaming through the windows and I freaked out because I had early morning plans with my mom. He gave me an alarm and told me his mom and the other people who worked in the basement would probably show up at 8:45 and most likely wake me up with their bustle and noise. I looked at my watch and didn’t feel too bad – that would give me 5 hours of sleep. Then I realized that I hadn’t reset my watch, and I’d only sleep for 3 hours. At least I fell asleep quick.
I actually woke in 2 hours, and couldn’t fall back to sleep because I was still in my clothes, sleeping in a hot room in a pile of mail that wouldn’t be opened until the year 2006. Sometimes in foreign surroundings, or when I have to wake up in under 4 hours, I wake up too early, even if I’m completely zoned out upon consciousness. And I was – I stumbled to the bathroom at took a shower, my head pounding with lack of sleep, my eyes welded shut. No contact lenses that morning, but I did manage a shave and some halfway humane clothes. I said a quick hello to Ray’s mom and the women who worked downstairs, and went back to the house.
Flashbacks abounded on the drive back to my mom’s, but most of my mind that was awake was blurred by the changes. Elkhart was never a mecca of culture, diversity, and change, but when I went to high school, it had its moments. Maybe I just sought out and found the remote crevices of the city that leaked tiny bits of coolness, or maybe I was hipper than I thought and created my own decent surroundings. At any rate, all of this was gone now. The tiny record stores, the familiar restaurants, the friends’ houses, the home turf all vanished. The Walmart-ification of the area caused it to look something like Orwell’s 1984 or something – gray and devoid of all life except for people driving to factories and renting videos and buying beer.
The subdivision looked the same, a bunch of identical houses, expensive cars, and yuppie motherfuckers all trying to bribe ChemLawn to make their front lawns greener. When I got to the house, I realized I didn’t have a key anymore. Both of my sisters’ cars were out front, so I banged on the door for 10 minutes, trying to get in. No answer. I took this as a sign that my mom wasn’t there to meet me, so I bolted.
I went back to Concord Mall. This mall was like the keystone of my existance for all of high school. I worked there, at Montgomery Ward, and spent 3 years almost living there. It was like Fast Times at Ridgemont High – I’d go out on my breaks into the mall, eat lunch, flirt with the girls at the different stores, go to Walden Books and talk to Jia’s mom, and hang out with the guys at the crappy record store. It wasn’t that I had a few fond memories there – my entire life happened there for 3 years, sad as it may seem. Christmas seasons of listening to the same muzak over and over, dealing with the customers, working all day in the summer, Friday nights alone in the paint department, fucking around with the girls in housewares and my friend Roger in Automotive. It sounds pathetic compared to my life now, but at the time, it was better than frying 100 pounds of french fries or cleaning toilets at a gas station.
The Concord Mall, like most other retail operations in Indiana, got driven south by the WalMart and Meijer stores. I walked the concourse and saw nothing but plywood over the old storefronts, with maybe one in ten stores actually still open. The old places I loved were all gone, only a few still standing. There wasn’t any tumbleweed blowing through the aisles, but it felt like there should be.
Being in my old store felt the worst. I went looking for my old manager Preston, just to say hi and tell him I was in town. My old department, the paint/wallpaper area, had completely vanished a few years ago – the walls were torn down, the paint racks and mixing equipment trashed, and the whole area filled with scratch and dent furniture. None of the familiar surroundings were there anymore. I also couldn’t find Preston. I did talk to a guy from Automotive who vaguely remembered me, but he seemed pretty vague about everything. It reminded me of my Christmas trip, the first time I returned from Seattle – I ran into about 4 or 5 people from high school, and none of them recognized me at all. They just politely said hi and nodded when I said I moved out west and started working. Maybe my ten year high school reunion will be a major waste of time.
I headed back to the house, and my sister Angie woke up and let me in. My mom left a giant list of stuff she was doing all day, and it didn’t look like we’d hook up at all. Plus the tux shop was closed until noon, which meant I could’ve slept 3 times as long. Great.
I went to the tux place and found my worst nightmares were pretty much dead-on with the rental. It had normal pants, a semi-normal shirt, some little black Amish-type of backless vest, and some kind of demented tie that looked like something Boss Hogg would wear, or maybe an extra from the film Gettysberg. The coat didn’t exactly fit, either – the shoulders were tailored all wrong. It felt like a suit right off the WalMart rack. At least I brought my own shoes, I planned on wearing either some nice leather Bass shoes, or a pair of combat boots. And I had a pin for the lapel that said “I Fuck Corpses”.
That’s where the story ends. With that, I must go finish dinner in my heat-less apartment.